Carl Edwards has agreed to do a diary Q&A with SI.com biweekly this season. Coming off a second-place finish that left him sixth in points, Carl dishes on his best run of the year to date, which has him optimistic the No. 99 team is just hitting its stride. Plus, his take on the possibility of Danica Patrick as a teammate, double-file restarts, and launching into some love ... for LeBron? It's all here in the latest edition of Kickin' It With Carl.
SI.com: Let's talk about Pocono. To put your run in perspective, you led 103 laps in this race ... 54 more than you'd led all year up to that point. How refreshing for you was it to have a car that dominant once again?
Carl Edwards: Yeah, that was great. That's what we do this for, is to have cars like that. We just need to focus on running that way over and over to have the type of season that we had last year. Obviously, I wanted to win ... but it was a good points day. So, I was frustrated because we didn't win the race, but I was extremely excited about how we performed, how our pit crew did, and our points situation. If we're like that every weekend, we're going to win lots of races.
SI.com: When did you realize during the race you had a car capable of winning? Do those types of cars have a "special feel" to them?
CE: About halfway through the race, I realized it. We were leading the race, and I lost the lead on one of the restarts and got it back. At that point, when I can repeatedly go to the front and run laps faster than the rest of the field, that's when I know, "Hey, we've got something to work with here."
Obviously, at the end, Tony got his car a lot faster, but even then, I still felt confident. If you've only got to race one or two guys, that's the key. If you're the third-fastest car, fourth-fastest car, then you start thinking, "What's the best finish we can get?" But when your car's as good as mine was Sunday, you think, "Hey, we can win this thing!"
Of course, saving fuel at the end of the race kept you from making a real charge at Tony Stewart for the lead. How difficult was it to balance the need to save fuel with a racer's natural desire to catch the guy in front of you?
We won three races last year with fuel mileage, and I feel very confident when it comes down to that type of race. I feel like both our engines and the way I drive the cars leaves us a good shot to win 'em. So, I like it. It's not something I'm scared of... it's something I look forward to. But it's stressful. You can't let your emotions get hold of you, because when you've been racing for four hours, as fast as you can go, to all of a sudden slow down and step back in the name of fuel mileage is very, very tough.
SI.com: Did you know Tony was going to make it?
CE: No. I was almost certain he was going to run out of fuel. So, he really surprised me. If I knew he was going to make it to the end, I would definitely have gone a little bit faster. But I would have been taking a huge risk; I say that right now, but if we finished 15th because I ran that thing out of fuel, or 20th, that would have been a terrible, terrible day. We moved up five or six spots in the points by finishing second, and that was huge.
SI.com: You've had one race under your belt now with the double-file restarts -- starting both up front and in the middle of the pack. Did you find you were doing anything differently on those restarts, and do you think they had a successful debut?
CE: Well, it gives everyone but the leader a chance to get up there and get an advantage. The only thing I think is the leader needs to start by himself in front of the two guys behind him. Because you work hard to get that lead, and to start right next to somebody, it just doesn't seem quite right.
In general, though, the idea of starting the cars double-file with all the leaders up front is one of the best moves NASCAR's done in a really long time. It's going to be great for the fans.
SI.com: Carl, there's so much talk about rivalries in this sport, but I notice one thing that you try and subscribe to -- if it's not in the heat of the moment -- is, "If I don't have anything nice to say to someone, don't say it at all." You did that recently with Kyle Busch, refusing to comment on his guitar-smashing incident because you felt it wasn't your place to do so.
But in a sport like NASCAR, how do you balance that philosophy with people always wanting to know your opinion on specific drivers and what they did?
CE: Here's the thing. I can just tell you that I believe that about 90% of the media right now is basically just "shock value." They're not adding anything positive, just writing something that gets people's attention -- and that supposedly makes it worthy as news. Just because a picture of someone famous in some sort of compromising position, or shocking photo, or shocking revelation about someone's opinion on something ... I just don't think it matters. I don't think it does anything good for the world. And I don't think talking bad about people through the media is good, either. I don't think it teaches anybody any good lessons... I just don't think it's right.
So, it's real simple. If you don't have something good to say, don't say it. Now obviously in the heat of the moment, I've said things and done things -- that happens. But to sit back and comment on other crap that you don't know much about, I think that's the worst.
I've had to read ignorant peoples' comments about things in regards to me, and they don't know me. They don't know what's going on. I have no respect for those people, zero. So, in regard to Kyle, I wasn't there. I wasn't in Victory Lane. Why would I comment on that?
SI.com: This month is the craziest of the year for you, as you go back and forth between the Nationwide Series race on Saturday and the Cup Series race in two different locations. Is there anything different physically that you do to prepare for that? How does Jack Roush and the team help you to be on top of your game for this three-week stretch?
CE: There's really nothing I can do differently. My schedule is busy, and you just have to go do it. It ends up being a little more of a drain than a regular weekend in some ways, just because of the extra hours you travel. But in other ways, it's actually simpler. Like Milwaukee next week, for example. I just show up and race the car. I don't even have to think about that Nationwide car until I get in it and they're throwing the green flag. So, that's a little easier than, say, the Richmond weekend when you're in the Nationwide car at nine in the morning and you finish the race at nine o'clock at night. It's just a long day.
But next Saturday, for me, when I go to Milwaukee, it'll be an hour and a half in the Cup car, and then sitting in a back of an airplane until I get to the race track. Then, I'll race the Nationwide race and sit in the back of an airplane all the way back. And that's not hard.
SI.com: That has to put a lot of emphasis on your backup driver on the Nationwide side, then. Will you guys debrief before the race?
CE: Yeah, we try to talk about it. We do talk ... but it's only a five-minute conversation. They say, "Yeah, this is what we got. Here's our plan. It handles this way ... if it's tight, we're going to do this, if it's loose, we're going to do this. Good luck!" And we've had great guys help us. We've got Auggie Vidovich right now ... and I think it'll be good. Logistically, it's a lot of work. But for the driver, it's really just a lot of fun.
I have a really good training system, too (the Carmichael training system). My trainer Dean is a good coach, and he and I have prepared for this stuff. Hopefully, it'll go alright.
SI.com: We're 14 races into the season, and Hendrick-prepared cars have dominated (six wins in their last eight races). What do you think they have right now that the rest of you guys don't have? Where has the balance of power shifted?
CE: That's a good question. You could think of it as a balance of power, teams being above one another in terms of technical information. But the reality is those advantages are smaller and smaller. So right now, I'd say I don't know exactly what it is that they're doing, but they're doing something just a little bit better than us, and it shows up on the race track. But we're very, very close.
We're 14 races in. I'm hoping that in the next 12 races, we can get that small advantage back and go into the Chase even ... or with a slight advantage ourselves. The trouble is there's such small things that put you ahead in this sport right now, that in 2009 it's hard to put your finger on one thing.
SI.com: Well, what would be a small thing that could conceivably put you ahead?
CE: Well, one small thing that makes a big difference is the pit crew. If you consistently have pit stops that are one second faster than another person, than that means on pit road you're going to consistently beat that person by 2 or 3 spots. And with the competition the way it is, you can't make it up. So, that's an example.
On the cars ... if you have your shocks and springs and tire pressure set up so that your car doesn't get as tight as someone else's in the center of the corner just by a little bit, it doesn't change during a run as much, then you're going to have that slight advantage to pass one or two cars per green flag run. And you can't make up for that, either.
And with the competition the way it is, these things are a much bigger deal than when I started racing just a few years ago in the Cup series. The differences are smaller, but they have a larger impact.
SI.com: Now, one of the big NASCAR stories recently has surrounded the big "town hall" meeting with the sport, drivers, and owners at the end of last month. What did you learn from that?
CE: What I took out of that meeting might be different from what other people took out of it -- a renewed sense of my part in this business. We have one of the most competitive sports in the world. We have the ability to go out here and put on great races, and work together in the garage and with NASCAR to keep it that way and to make it the best sport that it can be for the fans. So overall, that meeting wasn't a call to fix something that is broke; it was NASCAR saying we're here, you're here as drivers and owners, and let's all work together and have an open line of communication as to what we can do to keep this going the way it's been going for the last half a century.
So, I thought it was a really cool meeting. I thought it was pretty big of NASCAR to have that type of meeting and just say, "Hey, let's hear what you guys think and let's work on this together!" So, I know there's a lot of people saying about what went on in that meeting, but the root and the point of it was Brian France, Mike Helton, and all those guys saying, "We're right here. What do you guys think we can do to make this better? To make it as good as it can be?" I thought that was cool.
SI.com: Rumors have Danica Patrick talking to Roush Fenway Racing for a possible stock car ride in 2010 -- that Jack Roush has extended her an open invitation for the ride. What would be your thoughts on Danica making her way over to RFR? Would you welcome her with open arms?
CE: I had read that she had an open invitation from Roush to come over here. I think that'd be great. If she were to come to NASCAR and drive for Roush, I'd do anything I could to help her out just like I'd do anything for Erik Darnell, Ricky Stenhouse, and Colin Braun or the other guys who are over here trying to learn these stock cars. I think it'd be really neat for her to do that, and you'd definitely want her to succeed for the sport.
SI.com: After losing the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron James made the headlines by refusing to shake hands with the opposing team as well as speak with the media. There's been a lot of criticism surrounding that move (he got fined $25,000), with people claiming that as a famous athlete, he's got a responsibility to not only speak publicly about the loss but "be a good sport." As a famous athlete yourself, do you feel that type of obligation is required, or people are putting too much pressure on a guy that has a right to be upset after a loss just like any human being?
CE: I don't feel that it's right for third parties to criticize LeBron James' interaction with Dwight Howard or the other team. Because you don't know the whole story, just like I don't know the whole story.
Now, all of us who grew up (hopefully) had the same lectures in sportsmanship, that you congratulate someone if they beat you; and hopefully, that's the same things our kids are learning now. But the fact is, you don't know what happened behind the scenes throughout that playoff series. You don't know what went on personally between LeBron and those guys. So, I think you just got to let it go, and it's up to each individual how they want to do things.
I don't think you can force someone to do something, especially if you don't know the whole story.
SI.com: So just because you want someone to act a certain way doesn't mean they should be obligated to act a certain way?
CE: Yeah. Just because you want to go tell your kids, "Hey, look at LeBron James and how he treated this loss." Just because you want that, it doesn't warrant your criticism towards him for doing what he did because there could be other things going on that you don't know about. I know personally there are certain people when our race is over, I feel like going over, shaking their hand, and telling them "Good race!" if they beat me. And there's other people that I don't have respect for, and I have good reason for not going over and congratulating them. From the outside, if you saw me on one of those days than maybe you would think I'm a poor sport -- but that's not for someone else to decide.
"Hey Carl, I've have hot passes for a few races the last few years and tried to get my favorite driver's autograph. But each time I try, I never can get it; they're too busy walking to their car or going to do some other appearance or something like that. If I see you in the garage, is there a good time to go get your autograph? And what is the proper etiquette for that type of stuff?"-- Jeannie Gorman, Tallahassee, Fla.
CE: It's tough, because the race track is where we work. It really depends on how well the car is running. If you look up at the scoreboard and you see your favorite driver's number at the top during practice, that would be the best time to go ask for an autograph. After practice is over, while the driver is leaving their car ... not when your driver is going to a race car. At that time, they're thinking about racing 100 percent. So yeah, after a practice session is over or after qualifying is over, if they ran well, that would be your best chance to try and get an autograph.
Have an advice question for Carl? Email Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the SI mailbag and you can be featured in the next edition!
Damian Walter's 2009 Clip Reel:
If you think Carl's backflips are crazy ... take a look at this guy.
Today's Topic: Late Night Television
PUMPING IRON: The Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Craig's funny as hell, and he's a good guy. I've been on that show three times, and I really like it.
LOSING STEAM: I actually like them all. Leno, Letterman ... I would love to be on their shows someday. What I'm not liking right now with TV is reality television. So much of it is obviously scripted or directed for drama. Why even try to act like this is real life when it's so painfully obvious that it's people being directed to act a certain way to make drama? Don't even put that stuff on TV. It's the most mind-numbing, terrible use of the airwaves, and they need to cut it out.
SI.com: Take us around a lap at Michigan.
CE: It's a two-mile oval. It looks extremely straightforward and simple, but the cool part about Michigan is it's so wide. You drive into the corner, into turn 1, at 200 miles an hour, and you've got to decide ... "Am I going to run the top or the bottom?" If you commit to the bottom, you go all the way down there to the white line. It's a real tight radius, even for a track that large, and you do everything you can to get on the gas as early as you can and get the thing straight off the corner.
Now, if you're going to run the top, it's a lot different. You coast in with a ton more speed, use a lot less brake, and you slide all the way up near the fence. I've run a foot off the fence there, and that's a big, fast corner when you do that. When you're on the top, you generally have your car set up nice and loose, so you don't worry about your car hitting the fence. You come down the back straightaway, and it's a long, flat back straightaway with turn 3 a real sweeping entry. There's a couple of little bumps you got to watch out for, but whether you run the top or the bottom there you come out on the front straightaway and it's one of the widest front straightaways we run. It's curved, so you get the chance to draft off people and run all the way to the bottom. It ends up being a lot of fun trying to time your front straightaway, so you get the most speed drafting off people. It's a neat track, a combination of a superspeedway and a real racy mile-and-a-half, like Atlanta because of the different lines.
SI.com: People have always called Michigan and California "sister tracks," but what's different between the two?
CE: Well, I like them both a lot. Michigan feels like the pavement allows you to get the car a little more sideways. It's a little more forgiving ... I don't know if it's just the age of the pavement or the tire we run. Turn 1 and 2 at California is a little flatter and a little bumpier, so it drives a little bit differently. At first glance, they look a lot alike and they drive similarly... but they both have their characteristics.
I think both of those places are a blast. The media always says, "Hey, it's boring to watch these cars around a two-mile race track." Well, it's not boring for fans who know what's going on. That's one of the neatest places 'cause you're getting to see these cars run out as fast as they'll go. It's fast, and it's fun.